The English name for the Church festival otherwise called Pentecost, held on the seventh Sunday after Easter as the commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the inspiration of the Apostles. The derivation of the word Whitsun is still unclear, despite a great deal of discussion and argument by experts and others for well over a hundred years. The first mention of the word in English is found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 1067, as 'hwitan sunnan daeg'. Whitsun was one of the festivals in the pre-Reformation Church when the biblical story was dramatized to educate the parishioners.
   In English tradition, Whitsun has long been a day of feasting and merrymaking, as befits its time of year as well as its religious origins. Medieval *church ales, *wakes, feasts, and revels survived in the fetes, sports days, fairs, and other convivial meetings of later periods, for which Whitsun was well known, but, in the secular sphere, Whitsun finally lost all meaning when its *Bank Holiday status was taken away in the 1970s, and the Spring Bank Holiday created to replace it.
   Whitsun merrymaking had a long-standing and proverbial connection with the *morris dance, as evidenced in Shakespeare's Henry V (ii. iv). Another widely reported custom, which apparently died out in the late 19th century, was the decoration of churches with boughs of trees, especially birch, placed in holes at the ends of pews and elsewhere, and another decorating custom, *Well-dressing starts at Whit-sun in some villages, and other customs and beliefs have also clustered around the season.
   Whitsun was one of those times (the others being *New Year and *Easter) when it was important to wear new *clothes if you could. Opie and Tatem list the earliest reference to this in 1626, and the latest from 1985. This developed into a sort of *visiting custom in south Yorkshire, where children would visit neighbours and relatives to show off their new clothes and hope to get a little money in return (L&L 1:3 (1970), 15). The desire for new clothes was also linked to another strong tradition, particularly popular in, but not exclusive to, the Lancashire/Yorkshire area, the custom of Whit Walks. These were organized primarily by churches (of various denominations) and involved the faithful processing around the neighbourhood, in their best clothes and if possible wearing white, led by a local band. At key points there would be mass open-air hymn singing, and an outdoor tea at the end of the day. In many cases it was the Sunday Schools who organized the walks for children, and they could be large affairs indeed, with thousands taking part on the day:
   Whit-Monday, as usual in Manchester, was a great gala day for Sunday scholars. A procession of all the school children in connection with the Established Church, numbering about 16,000, took place in the morning through all the principal streets of the town. Each school was headed by its band of music ... The remaining days of the week will be given up to processions by the children of other denominational schools ... ' (Croydon Chronicle (6 June 1868)).
   There have been numerous attempts to revive the custom (e.g. Dalesman (Nov. 1982), 616-8), and the massed singing has continued in the form of Whit Sings.
   A child born on Whit Sunday is doomed either to kill or be killed. This fate can be averted by going through a ceremony of a mock funeral of the child, or alternatively by squashing an insect in the child's hand.
   ■ Wright and Lones, 1936: i. 148-71; Hutton, 1996: 277-80; N&Q 5s:1 (1874), 401-3; 5s:9 (1878), 441-2; Dyer, 1876: 278-92; Opie and Tatem, 1989: 445; Steve Fielding, 'The Catholic Whit-Walk in Manchester and Salford 18901939', Manchester Region History Review 1:1 (1987), 3-10; Olive M. Philpott, 'Whitsuntide in our Village', Dorset Year Book (1961/2), 173-7.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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  • Whitsun — (Old English for White Sunday ) is the 49th day (seventh Sunday) after Easter Sunday. In the Christian calendar, it is also known as Pentecost, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples.It has that meaning in the following:* …   Wikipedia

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  • Whitsun — [hwit′sən, wit′sən] adj. [ME whitsone < whitsondei, understood as Whitsun Day: see WHITSUNDAY] of or observed on Whitsunday or at Whitsuntide …   English World dictionary

  • Whitsun — late 13c., contraction of WHITSUNDAY (Cf. Whitsunday) …   Etymology dictionary

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  • Whitsun — ► NOUN ▪ Whitsuntide …   English terms dictionary

  • Whitsun — Recorded in many spellings including Whitson, Whitsun, Whiteson, Whittson, Whetson, Witson, Wittson and possibly others, this is an English and occasionally Scottish, medieval surname. It is believed to have two origins. The must usual like the… …   Surnames reference

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  • Whitsun — Whit|sun [ˈwıtsən] n [U and C] BrE 1.) also .Whit Sunday the seventh Sunday after Easter, when Christians celebrate the ↑Holy Spirit coming down from heaven = ↑pentecost 2.) also Whit|sun|tide [ˈwıtsəntaıd] the period around Whitsun …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Whitsun — [OE] Whitsun is etymologically ‘white Sunday’. The name comes from the ancient tradition of clothing newly baptized people in white on the feast of Pentecost. The abbreviated form Whit began to be used with other days of the week (such as Whit… …   The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins

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